Saturday, July 11, 2009

The Project - Up Close and Personal

Last week I gave you an update on the xeri-garden, but in retrospect the photo did not do it justice. While I wanted you to see the whole thing, it was too small to see the real detail of what's growing. So we're back to take a closer look.

This is the left end of the bed. Before we look at the plants, take a quick look at the far left corner of the box. When I filled it originally, the dirt was up to the bottom of the top rail. In six weeks it has settled a bit more than two inches completely uncovering the second rail. One thing that I will have to do this fall and perhaps again next spring is to top dress the entire bed with more dirt. I will have to do it carefully to not smother the plants, but if I add it slowly I will be able to build up the level of the dirt as the plants grow taller crowns and keep themselves up and out of the dirt.

Now to the plants. You can easily see the salvia 'Snowhill' that dominates this end of the bed. It has grown and bloomed steadily since the second week after planting. There are only two plants here, but they have already reached 75% of their full grown size, and the butterflies love them. The thyme is just starting to bloom and the two remaining plants are spreading nicely, as are the two remaining evening primroses 'Shimmer' that are the gray-green foliage in the front of this photo.

The most interesting thing, tho, is the penstemon 'Elfin Pink' which is also blooming. Look closely at the right side of this grouping and you can find a tall, slender plant with coral pink flowers. It has bloomed for several weeks and altho it is small, seems well established. I have high hopes for next year. At the far right rear you can see the agastache 'Ava'. It is growing well and has some tall spikes of dark pink flowers that you just can see against the fence. It should at least double in size in a year or two.

In the right hand photo you can see the other half of the xeri-garden and some of the annual flowers that I added for color. At the extreme left is the 'Ava' mentioned above and just past the empty space is the second one. If you look carefully you can see some flowers on that one, too. The big open space is there because I wanted to leave plenty of room for them to grow. Eventually they should fill that space and have hundreds of flower spikes. The big surprise is the cat mint - it has gone wild! See all those pale lavendar fluffy-looking blooms behind and mixed into the petunias? That's cat mint. It smells wonderful (same family as "cat nip") and the butterflies spend whole days in it. You cannot see them, but there are also two penstemon "Violet Dusk' blooming in all that cat mint. They are a bit shorter than the 'Elfin Pink' in the first photo, but eventually I hope they will tower over the cat mint. They are lavendar, but otherwise look just like the 'Elfin Pink'.

When I planted all the petunias, I really was just trying to provide a pop of color to keep this new bed from looking too bad this first year. Well, they love it there and have spread like Topsy! I mixed the purple and pink just for fun, but ended up with a great view as you pull into the driveway - an unintended surprise! My long term plan is to use the far end of that bed as a cutting garden. I have already planted hollyhocks for next year, but will add zennias, stock and other annuals that are good for cutting.

Since it is a bed made entirely from composted dirt, I have had to struggle with weeding - not the usual garden weeds, but odd things from the compost like tomatoes! I have probably pulled 50 tomato plants so far, as well as hundreds of little Queen Anne's Lace plants, and the prize this week goes to a cucumber that is growing just behind the right-most 'Ada'. These all came from seeds of plants that were thrown in the compost heap. Unfortunately the heat in the deteriorating compost was not high enough to kill all the seeds. It makes for an interesting bed!

So, that's a better look at the xeri-garden six weeks later. I should note that I only watered the xeri-part for two weeks after first planting and have relied on nature ever since. [I have watered the petunia-filled end, where the plants are not intended to be water-wise, at least weekly depending on the amount of rain.] So far, they are doing fine and the drainage seems to be working as I planned. Altho I have lost two plants, that's not bad for a new bed and I lost things that are easily replaced. So far, so good.....

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Update on the Garden

There are two projects that have been growing along quietly with no fanfare, so it's time to let you see what's happened recently.

Mitchell's vegetable garden:

We have been picking lettuce for several weeks now and it is great. It was supposed to "head up" but did not seem to have the genetic message. We did get one nice head, but the rest of it came out as leaf lettuce - albeit curling leaves. It is delicious, tho, and we may well plant it again next year. It's like a cross between green leaf lettuce and Romaine. It's more crisp than green leaf, but more curly than Romaine. But, like all good things, it's time to come to an end. The lettuce is starting to bolt, so I will cut it all tomorrow.

We have had a decent growth of cilantro, but it as already gone to seed. I would leave it, but Mitchell doesn't want the new cilantro growing everywhere in the bed, so I will pull it tomorrow, too.

He has planted a variety of peppers - bell and hot of various types - but they are struggling. I think they were planted late, but may not like the humus soil in the boxes. We have a few small peppers on the bells, and one very nice hot pepper - New Mexico # something - but not really much to show for six weeks of growth. The cabbage are another matter tho. They are huge and have finally started growing heads. They are really pretty, but we will be happy in another couple of months when they are edible.

The tomatoes are a success story. He planted two cherry tomatoes and two Better Boy (or maybe Girl). We have been picking cherries for a couple of weeks and two "big" tomatoes are ripening on the window sill right now. There are many, many coming so we should have tomatoes for the next month or so. You can see them growing UP the netting at the back of the box on the left. All in all, I think this is a successful garden this year.

The Project

It's been just over a month since I "finished" the xeri-garden. [We all understand that "finished" and "garden" do not exist in the world as we know it.] You got your last look on May 25th, so here's what it looks like today.

I've lost two plants already - one of the thymes and one of the evening primroses. Everything else is doing very well. The salvia 'Snow Hill' has bloomed almost constantly since the garden was planted and the evening primrose 'Shimmer' has come and gone. One of the agastache "Ava" is in bloom now, as well as one of the penstemon 'Elfin Pink'. The four clumps of sedum "Autumn Joy" have recovered and are growing altho none is standing upright - that will come next year. But all in all, it's in good shape. The exubertant color you see at the right end of the box is a mass of petunias that I planted for fast color. They have bloomed constantly and look great. I think that in the spring I will plant cutting flowers there for the house next summer.

The native honeysuckle seems to be ok. I disturbed its roots pretty much in digging the box, but then put a good heavy covering of mulch over them and watered well, so they seem to have survived all right.

So, I am pleased. In mid-April next year when I see what's come back and where I have holes, I'll look at some other salvias or perhaps a penstemon - if I can find one locally - to fill in. I think it's a success overall.

There is one major mistake - rookie mistake - that I made. The bed is too wide to work easily. I made it 16 feet by 4 feet, which is a lovely proportion and looks really nice, but I cannot reach over four feet. I should have made it only three feet deep. I never really thought about it when I was planning. It just seemed like the right thing to do - to cut the landscaping timbers in half. So learn from my mistake. Remember that weeding is a major activity and you need to be able to reach across the bed to do it.